Oklahoma softball isn’t just chasing history, it’s running it down and over

Patty Gasso was shaken by the suicide of James Madison catcher Lauren Bernett. The OU softball coach is trying to do everything she can to avoid another athlete suicide, not just at OU but all across sport.gasso
Patty Gasso was shaken by the suicide of James Madison catcher Lauren Bernett. The OU softball coach is trying to do everything she can to avoid another athlete suicide, not just at OU but all across sport.gasso /

The Oklahoma softball program is currently the best in the country — not only this year but over the course of the last decade.

Annually, the Sooners are getting the top recruiting classes in the country, retooling and getting better year to year. Oklahoma is standing at a mind-blowing 52-2 this season. To put this into historical perspective, this Sooner team can be compared to three other teams considered to be the best college softball teams of all-time.

The 1994 Arizona team finished that season with a 64-3 record. The 1992 UCLA squad went 54-2, and in 2001 Arizona finished 65-4. Of course, each of those teams won the national championship, so the Sooners would absolutely have to do that to be part of the GOAT conversation.

The Sooners have advanced to the Super Regional where they will host UCF beginning this Friday, taking one more step toward history. Oklahoma is making its 12th consecutive Super Regional appearance and 15th overall.

Let’s start with an examination of 2001 Arizona. The Wildcats obviously were a tough out that season in a brutally strong Pac-10 conference and competed directly with UCLA, who was also a national contender that season. But there are two key factors about that Arizona team that stand out.

The first is that Jenny Finch had the greatest season ever for a pitcher. She went 40-0 as a starter, and on the biggest stage shutout UCLA in a 1-0 national championship game. Having a pitcher of that caliber, combined with an outstanding offense, Arizona was nearly impossible to take down.

Arizona set the NCAA record for home runs in a season at the time with 126 bombs.  Lauren Bauer, Toni Mascarenas and Leneah Manuma provided much of the offense for the 2001 ‘Cats. Their regular season was dominant, the only real thing to nitpick was their Women’s College World Series run, in which all games were decided by a single run (Cal 3-2, Oklahoma 5-4, and UCLA 1-0).

The college softball’s history produced in 1994 has a lot to do with Arizona and UCLA, which seems only natural. In 1994, Arizona flat embarrassed its competition, run-ruling 23 teams and outscoring their opponents 527-100. Arizona gave up just two runs during their entire WCWS run. Just two (both to UCLA in the semifinals).

Arizona captured its third national championship trophy in the 1994 season. Pitcher Susie Parra did not surrender an earned run and only one hit during the entire WCWS run. Arizona was an elite offensive team, fielding team and had excellent pitching. This was one of head coach Mike Candrea’s best teams without question.

In 1992, UCLA went an NCAA best 54-2 en route to winning the WCWS and the national championship. The Bruins were led by softball legend Lisa Fernandez, who starred as both a pitcher and third baseman. She had a .14 ERA, and also batted .401 in 1992. UCLA beat Arizona in Oklahoma City to clinch its then seventh national championship (UCLA now has 12 national titles in softball, the most of any program).

In the 90s, Arizona and UCLA dueled over and over. In fact, Arizona was the only team to defeat UCLA in 1992, beating them twice during that season. Led by Sharron Backus, whom many refer to as the greatest college softball coach of all time, the Bruins would not be denied. UCLA won four national championships in softball during the decade of the ’90s (one of which, 1995, was later vacated due to NCAA violations)

At 52-2 the 2022 Oklahoma Sooners’ team is on pace to a comparable season to the aforementioned great softball teams of the not-too-distant past. To be fair, it’s worth noting that a year ago at this time OU entered the WCWS with only two losses, as well. The Sooners dropped two games and still managed to win the whole thing a season ago.

There is no real question that the 2021 national championship Oklahoma teams enjoyed one of the great seasons of all time in college softball. But, ultimately the losses in OKC likely lessened the grandeur of how that team will be viewed in the conversation about the greatest of all-time.

This year’s Sooner team has a chance to do what last year’s team did not in finishing off a national championship run without dropping a game. The question is:  Will they? If they do, their numbers on the year are absolutely staggering:

In addition the Sooners’ 2022 roster includes the NCAA home run queen in Jocelyn Alo aa well as one of the greatest shortstops in college softball history in Grace Lyons. They all hit well, one through nine. in the line-up (four with a batting average above .400 and three others above .370). They also have three star pitchers in the circle. OU leads the nation in shut-outs, staff ERA, scoring, slugging percentage, HRs, batting average and is 15th in fielding percentage.

Everything is in perfect alignment for a historic finish for this 2022 Oklahoma softball team.